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CITES for Sharks and Rays over the Years

A look back at CITES listing for sharks and rays and our efforts to mobilize the dive community for their protection

Image of CITES CoP17 - Sharks and rays over the years
Project AWARE News

As representatives of countries that are signatories to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) are gathering in Johannesburg, South Africa, to make decisions on measures needed to regulate international wildlife trade, we pause to take a look back at CITES listing for sharks and rays over the years and our efforts to mobilize the dive community.

While CITES has helped to protect myriad terrestrial species, the effort to list sharks and rays is still relatively new ground, resulting in difficult battles: 

  • Sharks have been on CITES agenda since 1994, but international trade in basking and whale sharks wasn’t controlled  until 2003 and in great white sharks not until 2005. International trade was banned, however, for 6 out of the 7 sawfishes in 2007 with Appendix I listings.
  • In 2010, four proposals put forward to include three species of hammerheads, the sandbar, dusky, and oceanic whitetip shark, porbeagle shark and spiny dogfish in Appendix II failed to win sufficient support from the Parties at CITES CoP15. As a result, in 2011, Project AWARE rolled out the Big Shark Shout Out campaign to voice divers’ disappointment over the denied trade protections for these eight worthy and heavily fished shark species. We rallied our community’s support for concerted advocacy work over the following three years in the run-up to CITES CoP16.
  • From early 2012 through CITES CoP16, held in March of 2013, Project AWARE was a core participant of a successful, collaborative and highly coordinated effort of multiple NGOs. During this time, Project AWARE took every opportunity to put CITES protections front and center on government agendas. Along with our partners, we met with representatives from CITES member countries, participated in public consultation processes, and worked on shark protection issues at every turn including the IUCN World Conservation Congress, meeting of Signatories to the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Sharks (Sharks MOU) and CITES preparatory workshops.
  • In 2013, armed with more than 135,000 shark petition signatures and 245,000 letters sent direct to CITES delegates, we helped secure historic CITES CoP16 results for commercially valuable, highly traded sharks and rays. Oceanic whitetip, porbeagle, three species of hammerheads and both manta rays – all classified as threatened on IUCN’s Red List – were added to CITES Appendix II, resulting in status reviews and international trade controls. A proposal to transfer one species of freshwater sawfish from Appendix II to Appendix I was also accepted, thus banning all international trade in this critically endangered species. These listings set challenges and opportunities for Parties in implementing CITES regulations for highly-traded fishery commodities.

CITES CoP17, September 24 – October 5, 2016, offers new opportunities for Project AWARE to collaborate closely with partner NGOs and governments, and represent the dive community voice – YOUR voice - in promoting protections for iconic species on the CoP agenda and proposed for Appendix II listing: the thresher sharks, devil rays and silky shark. We’re at the CoP presenting strong arguments in support of the shark and ray proposals and in close collaboration with partner NGOs, we’re engaging with relevant CITES Parties in a bid to secure the international support needed for listing.  Through #Divers4SharksNRays, our latest campaign in the fight to protect sharks and rays at risk, we’ve once again united and rallied shark advocates like you around important shark and ray conservation issues that are threatening their survival.  

We are proud to represent the global voice of the dive community at this important world wildlife conference and proud of the many divers who are demonstrating their support for the CITES CoP17 shark and ray proposals by taking part in #Divers4SharksNRays. Keep adding your support to the campaign gallery until the CoP ends on October 5th. Your voice matters and can help make a difference!

The road to secure global trade protection for vulnerable shark and ray species is definitely a long and bumpy road. Shark species only began to be listed in the CITES Appendices in 2003 and even though more species have been included over the years, to date, only 18 are listed in the CITES Appendices. Will thresher sharks, devil rays and the silky shark be included in CITES Appendix II?

Stay tuned for updates from CITES CoP17 as we continue to deliver strong science-based arguments to CITES member countries in support of these vulnerable and highly traded shark and ray species.

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